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James Brown Drummer Clyde Stubblefield Dies

Phillip Faraone, Getty Images
Phillip Faraone, Getty Images

Clyde Stubblefield, who drummed on many of James Brown‘s most important recordings, has died. He was 73.

Rolling Stone is reporting that the official cause of death was kidney failure, as confirmed by Stubblefield’s wife. Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins, who played with Stubblefield in Brown’s band, wrote on Facebook, “We lost another Pillar Stone that held up the Foundation of Funk. Mr.Clyde Stubblefield has left our frequency. I am lost for words & Rythme right now. Dang Clyde! U taught me so much as I stood their watchin’ over u & Jabo while keepin’ one eye on the Godfather. We all loved U so much. (SENDOUT YR LOVE TO HIS FAMILY & FRIENDS)! Then share yr stories about this Fire breathin’ Drummer, (THE FUNKY DRUMMER)! R.I.P. From all yr Funkateers…”

Born April 18, 1943 in Chattanooga, Tenn., Stubbliefield began playing drums as a child after seeing drummers in a parade. He joined Brown’s band in 1965, shortly after another drummer, John “Jabo” Starks, signed on. Together, the two men laid down the backbeat for the birth of funk on classics like “Cold Sweat,” “I Got the Feelin’,” “Mother Popcorn,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

But it was another song, 1970’s “Funky Drummer,” that would cement his legacy years later. Roughly halfway through the nine-minute jam, Brown announces that he wants to “give the drummer some of this funky soul we got,” meaning an opportunity to solo. The eight-bar break Stubblefield played would go on to be the most sampled piece of music in all of hip-hop. As of this writing, WhoSampled.com lists 1,364 songs that have used that pattern. “Funky Drummer” became Stubblefield’s nickname.

Stubblefield left Brown’s employment within a year of recording “Funky Drummer,” settling down in Madison, Wisc., and playing locally with his own band. As his legend grew due to his influence on hip-hop, he made a few high-profile appearances, including reuniting with Starks, Collins and saxophonist Maceo Parker in the J.B.’s in 1999.

Last year, Stubblefield made headlines in the wake of Prince‘s death. It was learned that, when Stubblefield had racked up large medical bills due to bladder cancer, Prince wound up writing a check for $80,000 to cover the costs on the condition that it not be reported.

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